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Besieged by a rising tide of overdoses and suicide, the American life expectancy rate dropped for the third year in a row in 2017, according to reports released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Life expectancy in the United States peaked in 2014, when Americans lived for an average of 78.9 years. Since then, the rate has dropped or remained flat, a trend not seen since 1915-1918, which included the flu pandemic and World War I. In the past three years, life expectancy fell to 78.6 years despite declines in deaths due to cancer and heart disease. In 2017, overdose deaths peaked as more than 70,000 people lost their lives to drugs. Last year, suicide rates increased by 3.7%, accounting for part of the drop in life expectancy, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

“These sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, stated.

Women struggling with addiction create a tree with their hopes for recovery.

Turning the Tide

For residents of the greater Fredericskburg area, the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board works to reverse these statistics by saving lives through prevention and treatment for those struggling with suicidal thoughts or addiction.  The agency offers a range of supports, including crisis intervention, Medication-Assisted Treatment, prevention training, Same-Day Access and peer-run groups.

“When it comes to seeking help, earlier is better,” Executive Director Jane Yaun said. “But we are dedicated to sparking hope for every part of the journey—whether someone comes to us at the first steps or in the throes of a crisis.”

Area residents can now walk into one of RACSB’s mental health clinics and receive an evaluation that day, under a new statewide initiative known as Same-Day Access. Additionally, the organization offers outpatient substance use disorder services, short-term crisis stabilization, emergency assessments and peer supports.

RACSB also provides training for the community. REVIVE! teaches the public to reverse opioid overdose deaths and Mental Health First Aid offers information on how to recognize and respond to mental health crises. RACSB now provides MHFA training for the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy and the University of Mary Washington, along with some local school districts, church groups and others. The next REVIVE! training will be held Dec. 5 at Salem Church Library

REVIVE instructor shows the medical dummy to the class.

REVIVE! training teaches life saving techniques.

A Wave of Support

Reversing a wave of deaths isn’t easy, and RACSB gives thanks for the dedication of the Fredericksburg community and leaders committed to ending these tragic losses of life. Organizations teamed up to offer educational forums on suicide prevention, the opioid epidemic and childhood trauma. Groups continue to work together to promote recovery.

“We have a tough challenge ahead of us,” Yaun said. “But we are blessed with a strong community. At RACSB, we are committed to rolling up our sleeves and walking beside individuals who are struggling, to help them find the hidden hope along their journey to recovery and wellness.”

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